This superb steep ridge hike out of Arrowrock Reservoir in the Boise Mountains treks through blankets of wildflowers and provides an exhilarating view of water and mountain ranges. It's our final "Grand Slam Peak".
Fred and members of the Summit Sisters on summit of Mt. Heinen - 6,336 feet
Trip Stats (Southeast Ridge Approach):
"In the end you won't remember the time you spent working in your office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain."
- Jack Kerouac
Our route and elevation profile up Mt. Heinen's southeast ridge
5 miles to summit with cumulative 3,700 feet of elevation gain
Arrowrock Reservoir is lower right - hike begins adjacent to the Irish Creek Campground located 14 miles in on FR-268 from turn-off of ID 21.
click on map for PDF
Stepping onto a mountain summit, no matter how high, is always cause for celebration. The top of Mt. Heinen was even sweeter because Fred and I celebrated the completion of the four "Grand Slam Peaks" with members of the Summit Sisters, a women's hiking group who were doing the same in May, 2018. Since then, we have summited Mt. Heinen two other times this year: in September we took a friend and his two boys, Deacon and Kaleb and in November we took our friends Val and John. Deacon and Kaleb were working on completing their four Grand Slam Peaks. We had recently summited Goat Mountain with Val and John, a very tough hike, and now we were on another tough hike up Mt. Heinen.
Tom Lopez, author of the website Idaho: A Climbing Guide hikes four summits for spring training: Mt. Heinen is the toughest. The other Grand Slam Peaks are Lucky Peak, Cervidae Peak, and Kepros Mountain. Fred and I use Lucky Peak for training, and we will definitely be back on Heinen because it's skinny single-track, perched on a ridge most of the way is surrounded by knee-high wildflowers, peaks, and views of Arrowrock Reservoir. The green and lush vegetation reminded me a bit of Crested Butte, Colorado hikes.
Deacon, Fred, Kaleb and Greg on summit of Mt. Heinen - September 30, 2018
Arrowleaf Balsamroot with Arrowrock Reservoir in the distance
Initial steep climb out of Irish Creek Campground, on the shores of Arrowrock Reservoir
The trail in sight starting at FR-268 adjacent to Irish Creek Campground on Arrowrock Reservoir is steep and straight up - it vanishes over the ridge on the horizon. To know that this is only the beginning of the climb and that there is so much more elevation gain is the fun part of the challenge. The initial climb levels off into a beautiful meadow, but only for a short distance and then it climbs unmercifully again utilizing a few short switchbacks, to finally top off at Point 5402 at 1.8 miles where perspective can be gained. Mt. Heinen still can't be seen, not for another mile or so.
It is at this top-off before descending into a shallow saddle where Point 6137 comes into view as the left-most of twin points on the horizon. It has one tree on top. That is the landmark for the trail, as it contours around the left (west) side of this point and then heads almost due north.
The wildflowers - mostly Arrowleaf Balsamroot - were at optimum blooming the end of May. Threadleaf phacelia and bright purple penstemon were so lush and healthy. At times the vegetation grew so abundantly over the trail that we had to pay attention to where we were going. This is a ridge hike, open and airy as you walk above the landscape as the hillsides below fall away into undulating blankets of green and yellow with distant blue-gray mountain ranges surrounding. The trail is easy to follow most of the way but it gains a few "false summits" before Mt. Heinen comes into view. Closer to the peak it becomes less wide.
Like Mount Kepros, after the initial steep ascent and onto the ridge, the trail makes a series of hill climbs and saddle descents. Near the summit, the trail treks through Idaho Batholith granite.
Parsnipflower Buckwheat or Whorled Buckwheat
Fred and Sue on trail to Mt. Heinen
View from crest of initial climb, 1.8 miles from trailhead
Point 6137 is first seen as the left point on the horizon with the single tree on it - trail goes on the left (west) flank of this point and then heads due north to summit
On the way down, stay on the ridge you ascended by walking around this point to the left and staying on ridge that leads southeast
Point 6137 - trail changes direction from NW to north as the trail curves around the base of this point on its west side
At Point 6137, we passed a group of three people who had decided they would turn around, except for one hiker, a member of the Summit Sisters who hiked with us for a while and then joined up with the rest of the Summit Sisters members on the trail further up. It is at this pointed rise with a single tree that Mt. Heinen can finally be seen - the furthest peak on the left/end of the ridge. It is here that the trail winds around Point 6137 to the west and then heads straight north to Mt. Heinen.
On the autumn hike with Greg, Deacon and Kaleb, I became "temporarily bewildered" and walked down a small trail to the west of Point 6137. On the return hike, make sure to walk completely around Point 6137 (eastern ridge). Avoid the ridge that descends to your right (west). At the base of Point 6137, the trail continues down the east ridge, east of large drainage that separates two major ridges (see topo map above).
On the spring hike, we made the 5.0-mile hike to the summit in 2 hours and 50 minutes. One by one the Summit Sisters joined us in celebration. By then, an ominous dark cloud came over us, so we all decided to descend.
I recalled Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s quote:
"Perhaps climbing a mountain is nothing more than an act of worship,
and reaching the barren perch of a summit is to experience pure awe."
- Lucy Jane Bledsoe, The Ice Cave
Admittedly, some summits are more spectacular than others, but each summit is cause for celebration. Mt. Heinen is the last on the ridge that runs to the northeast of Irish Creek and there is ultimate satisfaction in getting to the end of the ridge. Most peaks are hard-won, or in other words gained by hard work and effort, overcoming obstacles that get in your way, whatever they may be (in my case, tired legs and burning quads!).
I was impressed with Deacon and Kaleb on our second Mt. Heinen hike; they have been getting fit by hiking Kepros and Cervidae. They did great on this tough hike and we had a celebration at the top in the warm autumn sun surrounded by hillsides dotted with shrubs whose leaves were turning yellow.
The last mile to the summit is a ridge ramble on moderately difficult terrain, at times maneuvering around or on top of granite rocks. The summit geological marker post can be seen from a distance. Grand Slam peaks are done! The May Mt Heinen summit got us in shape for a summer of summit hiking. Mt. Heinen also gave us a new perspective on the land of Southern Idaho and the vastness of the Boise National Forest.
The last mile of descent was the most difficult part of the hike because it is so steep on loose gravel and rocks. A walking stick is helpful for this part. When I needed a rest, I had an awesome scene in front of me of the Arrowrock Reservoir.
Walking toward a "false summit", or as I like to call them "pseudo summit"
Approaching summit USDA geological marker placed in 1946
John and Fred on summit of Mt. Heinen - November 2018
Summit of Mt. Heinen looking north with red felt flag attached to marker
View from summit of Mt. Heinen looking east
View to NW from Mt. Heinen summit
Fred on summit of Mt. Heinen
4 Grand Slam Peaks Completed!
Greg, Deacon, Kaleb and Fred on initial climb to Mt. Heinen
Kaleb is about 2.25 miles into the hike - headed to the rise on the horizon
Val and Fred heading down toward Arrowrock Reservoir
Arrowrock Reservoir and Irish Spring Campground/dock on the way down the trail
A spacious ridge ramble in the Danskin Mountains with abundant wildflowers and views of snow-covered Trinity Mountains and Arrowrock Reservoir
Kepros Mountain Hiking Route and Elevation Profile
Trailhead (green circle) begins at summit of Blacks Creek Road from large parking lot. It initially climbs a steep motorcycle track whose tread can be seen on 3 short hills from parking lot. Trailhead at 4,780 feet, summit at 5,422 feet
Trailhead for Kepros Mountain looking west - motorcycle trail can be seen on 3 short and steep hills
Blacks Creek Road in foreground
"Even though age diminishes our physical capacities, it will happen even faster if we don't test ourselves."
- Mike Carlson, Five-time Race to Robie Creek Champion
Three down and one to go after summiting Kepros Mountain - that is, Fred and I have completed three of the "Grand Slam Peaks" that Tom Lopez describes in his website, Idaho: A Climbing Guide. Lucky Peak, one of the Grand Slam Peaks is our frequent training hike. Cervidae Peak is another that I posted on my website. Kepros is the third. Mount Heinen is the fourth and final peak of the "Grand Slam" we will summit in the next few weeks.
Initial single track trail
Top of Shafer Butte north of Boise on distant horizon
The ecology in these foothills near Blacks Creek Road may be described as "reference" - an area with mostly native plants that shows us what this land looked like in the past; an area that has not been disturbed. I didn't see many invasive plants and 2 species of astragalus were healthy. It was a delight to walk on a trail near Boise devoid of cheatgrass, in a landscape full of sagebrush and native grasses.
The easiest way to find this unmarked trailhead is to drive Blacks Creek Road 11 miles north from the exit ramp off I-84 until it reaches a summit and begins to descend. We parked at the large lot on the east side of the road along with some trailers and people getting their ATV's ready to ride trails to the east. The trail to Kepros Mountain begins on a single track going straight up 3 short steep hills to the west off Blacks Creek Road.
From beginning to end, this hike in late April is a wonderland of green and vivid hues of purple and yellow dotted throughout. Hiking through these sagebrush hills gave me a light feeling of air and space and a renewed appreciation for the landscapes of southern Idaho.
Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot
The initial single-track trail winds through a sea of sagebrush over rolling hills and past rusted metal signs and occasional core stones of granite. There are some bypasses around the highest elevations: we took a good one that met up with the ridge jeep trail to avoid more climbing, about 2 miles into the hike on the east (right) of the ridge. The bypass was not at this time marked with a cairn, however, the path it took was clear. At this point we saw our first view of Lucky Peak Lake and Boise to the west. Along most of the hike the snow-capped Trinity Mountains loom on the east horizon. As we climbed, vegetation became even more thick and green. The trail intersects a creek near the summit with pines lining its sloping banks that was tempting to explore.
Single track trail meets with jeep trail ~ 2 miles into hike; it stays level, then winds up and down to Kepros Mountain left-center horizon
Idaho Batholith granite - Trinity Mountains on horizon
Arrowrock Reservoir from summit of Kepros Mountain
Pretty sure this is a gopher snake - looks like a rattler but this one had no rattle
From Kepros Mountain summit looking northeast to Arrowrock Reservoir
George Kepros, according to Idaho: A Climbing Guide website, homesteaded in this area and this is how the Mountain got its name. I looked into the history of this land and found a George N. Kepros, who is buried in Boise died at age 92 in 1973. He may be the man that Kepros Mountain is named after.
The final push to the summit is steep. Fred and I hit this summit on the perfect day - high clouds, expansive 360 degree views that we were unaccustomed to seeing, as we hadn't been in this "neck of the woods" before. This perspective of Lucky Peak, a summit we have been on many times, is unique because the north side is so forested - this is not seen from Boise looking at its south slopes.
After signing the summit register and enjoying a peaceful break, we hiked the nearly 5-mile trek back to our truck. As Fred led the way back, I kept falling behind because there were so many things to photograph. There's some climbing to do on the way back. We took the same bypass on the east side of the trail that we took earlier to the single track. So peaceful is this hike, and late April/early May probably the best time to do it. Fall hunting season probably not a good time.
So far Kepros is our favorite of the four Grand Slam Peaks - but we haven't hiked Mount Heinen yet. We will let you know what we think after we summit Heinen, the last of the Grand Slam Peaks!
Kepros Mountain summit looking west - Lucky Peak mid-horizon
Mertensia (Mountain Bluebells) on top of Kepros Mountain
A rugged and beautiful off-trail trek up Breakfast Ridge in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness through a saguaro, palo verde and ocotillo "forest".
Sabino Creek follows the deep cut of the Sabino Canyon Fault in metamorphic core complex rocks of Mylonitic Oracle Granite (gneiss) and Mylonitic Wilderness Suite Granite (gneiss) that formed 25-35 million years ago.
On Breakfast Ridge parallel to Sabino Canyon facing north
McFall Crags on most distant left horizon. This route treks over the first major rise (4,000 feet) between two large saguaros in this photo
"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote."
-Herman Melville, from Moby Dick
While scouting the web for a mountain to climb in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, I stumbled upon the blog Earthline: The American West, where I saw the detailed description for a hike to McFall Crags and Rattlesnake Peak and the quote above. "Remote" is a relative term: this hike takes you into the spectacular canyon country of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness where you will not likely see anyone else, however it starts among the throngs of visitors at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center. As the ridge climbs higher, the view of the Tucson metropolis opens up to the south, but to the north loom rugged crags, canyons and domes. The reward for charting the best route around tangles of thorny Palo Verde trees and long prickly pear spines on a trek with little or no signs of human impact is a more intimate connection with and a greater awareness of this rugged land.
A rare Crested (cristate) Saguaro
Following the detailed directions from Earthline's McFall Crags and Rattlesnake Peaks blog post, we set out with quick pace on the Esperero Trail from the visitor's center for 1.3 miles and entered Rattlesnake Canyon wash. The map below shows our route ascending the east flank of Breakfast Ridge and then a parallel route of our descent off Breakfast Ridge and into Rattlesnake Canyon wash to the west of Breakfast Canyon. Next time, I would just ascend and descend the wider Rattlesnake Canyon to the west - it is a beautiful and easy walk marked with footprints and cairns. Or, get onto Breakfast Ridge sooner out of the wash for more firm footing, as described in Earthline blog.
Figuring out which wash to go into and which ridge to mount can be confusing; experience with using a topo map is necessary.
As we walked up the ridge, Fred noticed a saguaro with a weirdly-shaped crown (photo above). Crested saguaros are relatively rare and are caused by an unusual mutation where cells divide outward instead of in a circular pattern. The Crested Saguaro Society has counted ~ 3,000 cristate saguaros.
Our route to second major rise (4,420 feet) on Breakfast Ridge
Shown is our ascent to the east up onto Breakfast Ridge and our descent to the west off the ridge and into Rattlesnake Canyon wash.
I recommend using Rattlesnake Canyon wash to the west of Breakfast Ridge to climb east onto the ridge.
Knowing we had a Frost gelato as our reward, we continued up the ridge, trying to avoid thorns and spines, but getting scratched anyway. I should know to wear pants when bushwacking in Arizona, but Idaho hiking is a whole different animal, and long pants aren't required unless it's cold.
This is a trek of beauty everywhere you look. Breakfast Ridge is a route to many intriguing places to experience and summit, with pretty steep canyons on either side. At the top of the first major rise at 4,000 feet, we found ourselves at eye-level with a blooming saguaro. Go straight up and over the first rise with occasional hand holds onto gneiss for balance. Rocks are stable on this short and steep section.
Gneiss cairn on Breakfast Ridge
From the first rise, walk down to a saddle and then up again toward the second major rise, with somewhat more open routes to take around clumps of prickly pear, palo verde and ocotillos. From the second rise at 4,420 feet, we could see Rattlesnake Peak and McFall Crags. Sabino Canyon Trail #23 traverses down the wall of Sabino Canyon to the east. I didn't see any hikers on that trail, adding to the feeling of "remoteness". Unfortunately, we were running out of time and turned back at this point. Next time we will start much earlier so we can summit Rattlesnake Peak.
First major rise at 4,000 feet on Breakfast Ridge facing south (return hike)
On the descent, we got off Breakfast Ridge and into Rattlesnake wash - a great way to observe geology: foliated gneiss cliffs and rounded boulders while walking through soft sand. Ending our "remote" hike, we walked down the tram road to the Visitor Center - Frost gelato, here we come!
Route-finding on ridge around thick vegetation
Quartz vein in mylonite
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) blooms
So much to climb!
On Breakfast Ridge near second main rise at 4,420 feet
Descending Rattlesnake Canyon
One of Tucson's highlights and reward for tired and scratched legs - a Frost gelato
Bezy, John V. 2004. A Guide to the Geology of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Highway, Coronado National Forest. Arizona Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ. 56 pp.
Cristate Saguaros. 2013. Resource Brief - National Park Service - Saguaro National Park, Resource Management Division.
Snowshoe climb to Lucky Peak from Boise River Wilderness Management Area after a March snowstorm
Trekking down from summit of Lucky Peak on southeast ridge
A good friend of mine commented, after reading my last post on Cervidae Peak, that Fred and I were "lucky" to have Lucky Peak as a training mountain. We've hiked it many times during the 18 years that we have lived in Boise. When we hike "the front side" of Lucky via Homestead Trail, the elevation gain is 3,000 feet and we always try to improve our time.
This time we snowshoed what we call the "back side" after a late winter snowstorm. Snow depths varied from a few inches at the trailhead to ~ 12 inches at the summit. A steady breeze from the northwest provided a good headwind for most of the climb. The visibility at the summit was 300 yards, and hard rime ice created by heavy fog coated fir branches and last season's blue-bunch wheatgrass. Fred and I took turns breaking trail through untracked snow. On our way down, the clouds broke revealing a spectacular winter scene with views of the Boise National Forest to the northeast, Lucky Peak Lake to the southeast, and the Owyhee Mountain range to the south. The contrast between the flat, dark Treasure Valley under shifting clouds and the bright white snow of mountains stretching to the horizon was of jaw-dropping beauty, the kind that makes you stop in your tracks. Idaho is an incredible place!
Boise River Wildlife Management Area sign at trailhead at ID Highway 21
Fred at start of ridge climb, 2 miles from trailhead
Our route to Lucky Peak (AKA Shaw Mountain) from Boise River WMA on ID Highway 21. This route intersects with Route E. Shaw Mountain Road near the summit (on left). Total hiking distance ~ 3.5 miles to summit with 2,280 feet of elevation gain.
This trail begins at the Boise River WMA buildings, following an often-muddy road in a northwest direction, with the tree line of Lucky Peak coming into view in about .5 miles. It crosses a creek, then begins a steep climb for 1 mile to the intersection of the road that leads to the abandoned buildings of Adelmann mine. At this intersection, take the road to the left for a short climb to a ridge overlooking the valley to the south. The road continues to the northwest and can be followed to the summit; it's here that we get off the road and take the more direct ridge route, beginning at two log stumps and a "No Motor Vehicles" sign. We gain the ridge where the snow is wind-blown and not as deep and follow it towards the tree line on the right. Toward the top, there is an intersection with E. Shaw Mountain Road, marked by a wooden birdhouse. Our route continues on this road to an outhouse with the radio towers of Lucky Peak in view, then a short steep climb to the top.
Point at which we leave the road to climb to ridge: this is on a saddle separating Adelmann Mine to the north and Black Hornet Mine to the south
Mine apparatus (?) or gate (?) at ridge between Black Hornet Mine and Adelmann Mine, shortly after intersection of road to Adelmann Mine. This marks the point on our route where we get off the road and climb Lucky Peak's southeast ridge
Sue on Lucky Peak hike February 2019
Lucky Peak hike during snowstorm - February 2019
Building at Adelmann Mine
At intersection with road that leads to Adelmann Mine
Hike up ridge toward Lucky Peak with trees to the right
Granite of the Idaho Batholith
Hard rime ice had accumulated on the windward side of everything enveloped in the fog at the top. We cleared a place in the snow, sat and ate lunch until we cooled down from the climb. As we hiked down, the clouds thinned, illuminating trees, grasses and shrubs in a golden light, and a little further down we found ourselves in bright white fresh snow, walking toward the dark blue and white peaks of the Boise National Forest. Since Lucky Peak is the highest point for miles around, it gives you the feeling that you are walking above almost everything else.
Radio Towers on summit of Lucky Peak - 5,904 feet
Douglas Fir with hard rime ice at higher elevations on Lucky Peak
At intersection of our route and Route E. Shaw Mountain Road - follow this road to the summit of Lucky Peak
Great views of Boise National Forest and Lucky Peak Lake on the way down
Clouds clearing on the way down- walking toward Lucky Peak Lake and Boise National Forest
Antelope bitterbrush overlooking the Treasure Valley including Boise, Idaho
I have a greater appreciation for nature when I hike in adverse weather. Lots of times it makes for dramatic scenes. We went up into the clouds facing a steady headwind and came down in sun and breaking clouds with warmer temperatures. At the truck we give "high-fives" and realize how fortunate we are to share such beauty together. Get out of the city, take a short drive, see some beautiful Idaho!
Short and steep hike along ridge overlooking Lucky Peak Reservoir with great views, Boise National Forest
View from east side of ridge
Cervidae Peak is one of the 4 "Grand Slam Peaks" that Tom Lopez, author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide describes. The other 3 peaks are Mt. Heinen, Kepros Mountain, and Lucky Peak, all close to Boise. As Tom Lopez does, Fred and I use Cervidae and Lucky Peak to train for our summer mountain summit hikes. We discovered Cervidae when we wanted to add variety to our usual Lucky Peak training.
Cervidae Peak is great for a lot of reasons: it's close to Boise, the trail is steep with no switchbacks once you get on the ridge, so you can get a decent work-out in a short amount of time and see some awesome views. It's a great opportunity to get a good view of Lucky Peak Reservoir and identify landmarks at the 360 degree view at the top. The family Cervidae is a scientific classification that includes deer, elk, moose and reindeer.
Southeast Ridge route and elevation profile - Cervidae Peak (4,987 feet)
Lucky Peak Lake at bottom of photo - High Bridge over Mores Creek (ID-21) lower left
Distance = 2.3 miles one way with elevation gain of ~ 2,000 feet
Lucky Peak Reservoir
Lucky Peak (high forested peak)
Gate at start of Cervidae Peak hike - follow gravel road to right, in about 200 yards, the trail starts on the left side of the road
The Lucky Peak Dam was built in 1955 to be included in the system of flood control and use of irrigation water from the Boise River. This was done mainly as an assurance to water users of the Boise River system that their supply of water would be protected and the Arrowrock Dam and Anderson Ranch Dam above the Lucky Peak Dam could be drained down during flood control measures. It was a way of adding water capacity; building Anderson Ranch and Lucky Peak reservoirs were moves toward multiple-use reservoirs.
The Reclamation Service, a U.S. Federal government agency started construction of Arrowrock Dam, a few miles further upstream from Cervidae's trailhead on the Boise River for the purpose of storing water for irrigation in the early 1900's. Arrowrock Dam was dedicated in 1915 by Reclamation; it was the tallest dam in the world at that time and 4,000 people gathered to witness the dedication. The report, History of Boise River Reservoir Operations gives a great history and overview of management of the Boise River.
Large granitic intrusions during Cretaceous time (144 - 65 mya) that formed the Idaho Batholith make up the bedrock of Cervidae and the upper Boise River drainage. Cervidae Peak can also be summited from its west ridge; it's near this access where basalt dikes that cut through the granitic basement are seen along the east side of ID 21 a few miles past the high bridge that spans vertical basalt cliffs.
No switchbacks here - Cervidae is on right side of ridgeline
Native Grey Rabbitbrush and bunchgrass overlooking Lucky Peak Reservoir
Owhyee Mountains on far horizon
Most of the trail is steep and it's about all that you can see in front of you at times, but then you get to a rise on the ridge and see expansive views. About 3/4 of the way up this trail, the trail from the west side of the ridge intersects. This trail is accessed from Highway 21 and provides a more direct hike to the summit. The trail loses some elevation near the summit only to regain it, followed by less steep terrain toward the top.
We found a register at the summit pile of granite. A steady, bitter cold breeze had made us cold despite having climbed almost 2,000 feet in one hour. Surprisingly, the summit was calm but cold. Looking toward the northeast, we tried to identify Mount Heinen, a climb on our spring bucket list.
We did this hike with 2 friends a couple of summers ago - in the afternoon! Not the best time to do this hike - it was hot and there's no shade.
View of Lucky Peak (far left) ~ 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Cervidae Peak
Cervidae Peak summit - 4,987 feet
Bliss, James D., and Phillip R. Moyle. 2001. Assessment of the Sand and Gravel Resources of the Lower Boise River Valley Area, Idaho. U.S. Dept. of the Interior - U.S. Geological Survey, 41 pages.
Idaho Batholith: Idaho's Natural History Online from Idaho Museum of Natural History/Idaho State University. Retrieved from: http://imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/geo/bathlith/bathdex.htm.
Othberg, Kurt L. and Willis L. Burnham. 1990. Geologic Map of the Lucky Peak Quadrangle, Ada County, Idaho. Idaho Geological Survey, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 13 pages.
Stevens, Jennifer. 2015. History of Boise River Reservoir Operations, 1912-1995. Stevens Historical Research Associates, 67 pages.
Cross-country hike to summit of Monument Mountain with expansive views in Joshua Tree National Park, and some of the oldest rocks in California
Trip Stats (from Pinkham Canyon Road approach, off of Cottonwood Springs Road)
Yucca and cholla cactus
Near Pinkham Canyon Road looking southeast toward Cottonwood Mountains, southern part of Joshua Tree Wilderness
"Mind expanding" is what designer Jonathan Adler calls Joshua Tree. For those who have traveled deserts in Southern California, hiked the dry washes, climbed rust-red and brown rocks and seen valleys that extend nearly to the horizon backed by mountain ranges, Joshua Tree is a special place. It's an expansive and sublime wonderland. It was our long-time friend Scott's idea to summit Monument Mountain in southern Joshua Tree National Park around New Year's Eve 2017. Scott has hiked many peaks on the Desert Peaks Section Peak List, and he has tons of experience hiking cross country.
The views from the mountain's south ridge are incredible, and about 1/2 way to the summit, if you turn around and look to the south, you can see the Salton Sea, a large lake formed from overflow of the Colorado river when engineers in 1905 were attempting to deliver more water to irrigation canals . The weather was perfect: sunny, no wind, and 70 degrees. Fred and I had arrived from Boise for our yearly desert holiday fix.
After driving up Cottonwood Springs Road from Joshua Tree NP's southern entrance, we headed left (west) onto the sand/gravel Pinkham Canyon Road that begins adjacent from the Cottonwood Visitors Center. The road was in good condition, but I would still recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle because there was soft sand in parts. We piled out of Scott's red pick-up 5 miles down Pinkham Canyon Road and stood in a sun-flooded broad valley of yucca, cholla and creosote surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. Looking north to our destination, we could see our ridge to the summit, but Monument Mountain was not in view. We started walking across the wash due north.
Our route down from summit of Monument Mountain from Pinkham Canyon Road (black dashed line), Joshua Tree NP (North at top of map)
Google Earth image of our two routes: pink line represents our ascent to main ridge trail; Blue line represents our descent. On our way down, we took a ridge to the west and then joined back on the main trail (seen on map at upper "loop"). The blue line route down is easiest: the path wasn't apparent when we started. We parked ~ 5 miles down Pinkham Canyon Road (bottom of image).
click on map for larger image
View to the north of the Monument Mountain's south ridge. Cross the wash and head for toe of ridge
From edge of wash, climb up first hill to the south ridge of Monument Mountain
The flatter valley wash soon turns into an alluvial fan with larger rocks and braided channels at the toe of the ridge. As you look north, you see a rise and it is best to get to the top of it and onto the ridge as soon as possible; that will take you to the top of Monument Mountain. Walking on the ridge is pleasant with less vegetation and rocks to navigate than walking on the slopes beneath the ridge. The trail on top of the ridge is faint and marked at somewhat regular intervals with small cairns. Once on the ridge, the route is a gentle rolling climb to the summit cone of rocks with washes on both sides. Some dry washes have deep rock cuts at the top.
As seen from the Google Earth map above, we took a less efficient way up (pink line), side-hilling and navigating rocks. Sometimes you don't figure out the "right" way up until you go down! Although there is no "right or wrong" way, just more efficient and therefore more enjoyable routes.
Fred ascending to ridge from Pinkham Canyon Road in valley below
Looking at Monument Mountain summit, 4,837 feet elevation
About 2/3 of hike distance, (1.7 - 2.0 miles), Monument Mountain finally comes into view. You can see faint trail leading up to the ridge after descending slightly down from the ridge into a broad sloping valley on your left and a saddle to your right. The climb up the stable metamorphic rocks to the summit is relatively easy. Nothing matches the feeling of of so much desert around you, and unobstructed, airy 360-degree views.
Augen gneiss - some of the oldest rocks in California at early and middle Proterozoic age
Monument Mountain summit
Augen gneiss at summit of Monument Mountain, some of the oldest rocks in California, age 1.65 bya (billion years ago)
Light-colored feldspar mineral fragments in metamorphic rock
The survey marker on Monument Mountain is a triangulation station (or main station), as indicated by the triangle inscribed in the middle of the disc. This is surrounded by three other survey markers in distant locations that have inscribed arrows that point directly back to this main station.
Upon reaching the summit, we were somewhat surprised to see 2 people from the San Francisco Bay area that had hiked up via Porcupine Wash, from the northeast direction. I was surprised because this peak is so isolated and is located in the wilderness area. When I exclaimed, "There's the red can!", one of them commented that it was just trash left on a mountain. I explained to him that it was a summit register, whereupon he signed his name. I told him that the register at Cowboy Camp in the Santa Rosa Mountains still had the entry I had written almost 20 years ago!
Mt. San Jacinto, the towering presence over Palm Springs can be seen to the west.
The rock at the summit looks and feels old because it is old! These rocks record the earliest geologic events in Joshua Tree National Park - originated as sedimentary and igneous rocks that underwent metamorphism and then a couple of continent-building episodes finally to be uplifted during the Mesozoic tectonic events where it became fragmented. There are 4 units of this metamorphic complex within Joshua Tree. The augen gneiss on Monument Mountain is a metamorphic granite containing elliptically-shaped feldspar porphyroclasts in its layering (augen in German means "eye"). You can see these lighter grains of feldspar embedded in the dark rock. This type of rock has undergone Uranium-Lead geochronology from the zircon grains it contains to arrive at a date of 1.65 billion years ago, making these some of the oldest-known rocks in California.
Scott, Sue and Fred on summit of Monument Mountain
View to the south of the Salton Sea from the summit
View from the summit to the southeast
Red Barrel Cactus
Scott next to summit register, Eagle Mountains in the distance
Heading down; we ascended on faint path seen to the right side of the ridge in this photo
The way down is straightforward - follow the ridge! This is a good first-time cross country hike for the hiker that wants to get off a well-trodden path and do some fairly easy navigation with a good topo map. There's a smaller ridge to the right (southwest) as you head down and we took it for a little while about 1/2 mile down, but then got back on the main ridge. To avoid being pulled off the ridge and side-hilling over rock-cluttered and vegetation-thick (watch for the cactus spines!), sighting in the next cairn as one is passed is helpful.
As we got closer to the valley, we got sucked into a canyon - easy to do if you get off the ridge. By this time, we could see a glint of sunlight off the truck that was far across the wash. Further down we regained the ridge that at its end was a broad slope we descended easily to the alluvial fan and then finally to the wash. The walk across the broad valley passes over many small channels, through cholla and yucca.
Once we finally found the truck on Pinkham Canyon Road, we savored the setting sun illuminating the cholla cactus making them glow among the yucca and creosote.
Kaiser, J. 2017. How Geology formed Joshua Tree National Park. Retrieved from
Powell, Robert E. 2001. Geologic Map And Digital Database of the Porcupine Wash 7.5 minute quadrangle, Riverside County, California, U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 01-030, scale 1:24,000, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
Trent, D.D. 1998. Geology of Joshua Tree National Park, from California Geology, Dept. of Conservation, Divsion of Mines and Geology.
Roger Keezer, Coachella Valley Hiking Club hike leader, Search and Rescue Volunteer for Riverside County Sheriff, and great friend conceived the phrase, "Cactus to Clouds", a now well-known extreme hike. Fred and I recently hiked with his wife, Maria, to his memorial in the mountains near Palm Springs, California.
I've a vague memory of the first time I met Roger and Maria Keezer 26 years ago. We were among other hiking enthusiasts invited to the first meeting of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club, founded by Philip Ferranti. Ideas for a new hiking club were being considered: what kind of hikes should we offer, to where, how do we rate their difficulty, and who wants to be a hike leader?
Etched in my memory, however, is Roger's silhouette as he climbed in front of the sun and up the steep side of a mountain, walking stick in hand, pack on his back, with shade from a canvas brimmed hat. He wasn't a big man, but he could take long strides and climb like a mountain goat as we trailed behind him, our legs burning and hearts pounding. I still marvel at Roger and Maria's strength and endurance, and their hiking accomplishments. They celebrated Roger's milestone years of 70 and 75 hiking rim-to-rim the Grand Canyon one day, turning around and hiking back the next day. To do this, you must be fit, as Roger and Maria were. Walking from the North Rim to the South Rim is ~ 22 miles with a 6,000 foot elevation loss followed by a 4,500-foot climb out of the canyon. They were "rim-to-rimmers" before that term became popular.
Roger and Maria Keezer, on summit of Quail Mountain, the highest in Joshua Tree National Park
Roger Keezer conceived the name for arguably the toughest hike in America - an extreme physical test that climbs from Palm Springs to the top of Mt. San Jacinto in one day - a 10,300 foot heart-pounding gain. In 1993, six of us, including Roger and Maria, completed this hike. When I asked for a name for t-shirts to commemorate this extreme hike, Roger quietly said, "Cactus to Clouds". Our event was then dubbed the "First Cactus to Clouds Challenge". This hike is on many an extreme hiker's and runner's bucket list.
First Cactus to Clouds Challenge - Summit of Mt. San Jacinto - 1993
(Roger and Maria Keezer standing 3rd and 4th from left)
On trail near Palm Springs, California
Joyous to be out of the Boise snow this winter, Fred and I hiked with Maria under a warm desert sun near Palm Springs, California to a place where we celebrate Roger's memory on one of his favorite trails - a place that meant a lot to Roger. It is here that friends and family remember Roger with cards, photos, valentines and poems. So wonderful were many things on this hike: the sun warming the cool morning, the scent of creosotes, the satisfying crunch of gravel under foot, and especially walking on the trail again with Maria. But, oh, do I miss Roger's determined steps and gentle spirit!
Roger and Maria started their hiking career after retiring from Lucky Stores in 1992. We all became hike leaders with the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. After many hikes, many miles, many stories, many awesome mountain top views, much sweat and effort, our friendship endures. Quick-paced with stick in hand and pack on her back, Maria still marches up and down desert trails, and I'm still trying not to fall behind.
Maria Keezer still hikes steady and strong
Roger didn't talk much about himself. It was a few years after I met Roger that he told us he was a submariner during his Navy days. He was a quiet man with a gentle laugh, who could serve up a great-tasting tequila shot for hors d'oeuvres, followed by the most perfectly grilled tri-tip for dinner. He had a beautiful mint-condition 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback that he and Maria took on "Mustangs Across America" - a trip from Las Vegas to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fred, Sue and Maria near Palm Springs, California
California Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus cylindraceus
Roger often had interesting stories about helping to rescue lost people in the Coachella Valley and San Jacinto Wilderness when he was a volunteer with Riverside County Sheriff. Those were the happy stories, however, there were also the stories of body recoveries.
Wildhorse Trail near Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California
"Teddy Bear" Cholla - Cylindropuntia bigelovii
Maria and Roger Keezer, Ray Wilson, Scott Tanner, Fred Birnbaum on Art Smith Trail, Palm Desert, California
The view from Roger's memorial is stunning. I could see many places we had all hiked together in the washes and mountains surrounding us. The air was clear and the sun high as we stood and reminisced about the last 25 years of our friendship - and Roger's life. It's good to know there is a particular place we can go to remember Roger, although for me his spirit is still present in and around the desert mountains that he loved so much.
View of Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness from the top of Murray Peak, Coachella Valley, California
Maria and Roger Keezer, Fred Birnbaum
September 23, 1929 - August 22, 2015
Dry Creek and Shingle Creek trails, close to downtown Boise, are relatively lush with vegetation and a great place to run, hike or bike in all seasons.
Interpretive sign illustrating trails in the Dry Creek Experimental Watershed
Dry Creek in December - Boise Foothills
Autumn along Upper Dry Creek
The Dry Creek/Shingle Creek loop is my new favorite trail close to Boise for so many reasons. There's a surprising variety of vegetation as you climb 2,000 feet. You get a beautiful creek ecosystem and a ridge ecosystem. You make many stream crossings over Dry Creek Trail with bunch grasses, sagebrush and Woods Rose by your side as you begin, only to end up above this in a breezy forest of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir overlooking the Treasure Valley. We did this hike in November and still heard the sounds of rushing water and boots sloshing through shallow crossings in the creek.
Dry Creek Trail after intersection with Shingle Creek
The feature rock in this watershed is granite from the Atlanta Lobe of the Idaho Batholith; weathered outcrops stand along the Dry Creek Trail. One of the most intriguing aspects of hiking is that you get to experience the young and the very old in harmony. The 75 - 85 million year old granite breaks down into sandy loam and loam soils to give the perennial and annual plants a substrate to grow in.
At the Dry Creek/Shingle Creek intersection, we hiked up Dry Creek Trail. The topography got steeper as we neared the ridge. Most bridges across the creek are flat-topped logs especially helpful during elevated spring run-offs. Numerous waterfalls and moss, a forest thick with trees and brush make this Boise foothills hike enjoyable. Such a beautiful riparian environment so close to home!
After 2,000 feet of climbing, the ridge lies at ~ 5,600 feet in elevation, where the sound of water rushing over rocks is replaced by wind flowing through Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine branches. We saw lots of deer tracks in the snow and at the top a very fit-looking runner. At the trail junction sign, a short 0.4 mile spur continues to the southeast to join Boise Ridge Road. To continue to Shingle Creek, head on Trail 79 to the west. Soon the Treasure Valley is seen through the opening in the canyon.
Trail junction sign at top of Ridge 0.4 miles from Boise Ridge Road
Fun bikers near where Shingle Creek Trail starts to climb
After zig-zagging down from the ridge, the trail finally meets up with Shingle Creek, a narrower creek compared to Dry Creek. A couple of runners whizzed by us. Shortly after that, we met up with 4 bikers (above) that weren't doing the whole loop but were having a great time. Of course, we had to chat about mountain bikes and trails we had ridden. This part of the trail seems a bit long as it returns to lower elevation ecosystem of perennial bunch grasses and rabbitbrush.
Heading northeast up Dry Creek Trail
Last week, Boise was stuck in a nasty temperature inversion . For those who don't know what that is, click on the preceding link, but if you are from the Treasure Valley, you definitely know what an "inversion" is! When we're stuck in it, we talk about it at work, at the store, at the barber shop, at the coffee shop, as we are all in it together (except for the smart folks who drive to Bogus Basin to get above it).
Fred and I took a second hike up Dry Creek Trail in this inversion; we got high enough in elevation so that we could see blue skies ahead (see previous photo). We didn't hike the entire loop this time, but seeing blue when we looked up made us feel a little better - not to mention the beauty of snow on branches, and the feel of walking on soft snow.
Double Arch Alcove, Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park
Navajo Sandstone of the Double Arch Alcove - Kolob Canyons - Zion National Park
Taylor Creek Trail to Double Arch Alcove contains a treasure-trove of exposed geologic features in a relatively short distance. In the 450 feet of elevation from trailhead to alcove, the hike passes through three geologic formations. Like most box canyons, the hike starts at the lower, wider part of the canyon and climbs to narrower, higher walls on both sides. The towering wall seen from the north side of the canyon is Tucupit Point, and the wall seen from the south side is Paria Point. The hike ends at the alcove carved into Navajo Sandstone.
Geology aside, you can enjoy the sheer beauty of this hike because of the creek's waterfalls, the pines and junipers, and the colors and patterns on the rock. The Larson homestead cabin, built in 1930, lies at the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of Taylor Creek. The Fife homestead cabin is located further up the trail. Both are preserved well, and you can imagine what it might be like living through cold winter nights in this canyon.
Early morning is the best time to hike along the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek to Double Arch Alcove because of the quality of the light. As the rising sun shines on towering red rock walls along the creek, it reflects an orange glow onto everything in the canyon. I feel like I'm enveloped in a soft light that relaxes me as I hike further. Everything is still, devoid of harsh shadows and colors are vibrant. The orange sand is soft underfoot and the creek crossings don't create an interruption in our stride.
Small pond near creek where leaves were slowly circling together in a counter-clockwise direction
Kanarraville Fold seen in Middle Fork Taylor Creek in the Dinosaur Canyon member of the Moenave Formation
- note chevron structure of folds due to compressional stresses placed on the rock
During the Mesozoic Era, Western North America was in a mountain-building phase with compressional forces due to the Pacific Plate sliding underneath the North American Plate. The rocks of the Kolob Canyons were squeezed, compressed and uplifted. In the Middle Fork Taylor Creek Canyon, this resulted in the Taylor Creek Thrust-Fault Zone and the Kanarraville Fold. The photo above was taken on Thanksgiving 4 years ago when Fred and I first hiked this canyon.
Gray limestone with bivalve fossils probably from the lower Carmel Formation
Gustive Larson Cabin circa 1930
Early Morning in Late November
Taylor Creek - Kolob Canyons
Reflection from Tucupit Point into Middle Fork of Taylor Creek
Middle Fork of Taylor Creek - Kolob Canyons - Zion National Park
Double Arch Alcove
Maidenhair fern on moist sandstone wall
The scenery becomes more intense as you walk up the canyon. Then suddenly a wall of orange and red Navajo sandstone with black mineral stains looms above. The lower arch provides a wide alcove with water seeping from its walls. This is in fact what probably the impetus for the lower arch formation. Ground water seepage weakens and dissolves the cement between sandgrains, breaking down the sandstone. Blocks of sandstone then fall from the arch, accumulating below it only to be carried away by wind and water.
The blind upper arch appears high above the lower arch.
The whole scene is enveloped in a warm orange glow that is a reflection of light from the north canyon wall. The terrain is devoid of footfalls because of the soft orange sand. The green trees contrast with the orange and red. And to have some snow along the way as we did when we hiked this trail on Thanksgiving 2013 was an added bonus.
Yucca in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah
Biek, R. F., Geologic Trail Guides to Zion National Park, Utah - Kolob Canyon Trails - Middle Fork of Taylor Creek Trail. Utah Geological Survey
Website - "Watching for Rocks - Travels of a Sharp-eyed Geologist". Blog post April 21, 2011
Website - "Zion National Park - Plate Tectonics"
Fred at cowbell at top of Dead Ringer trail climb
Last weekend Fred and I got out of our Boise mountain bike trail comfort zone and rode some Utah trails near Hurricane. The Boise ride we're used to is a steady gravelly climb up of mostly non-technical trails. Although this ride was not technical, we found our legs getting adjusted to riding over blocks of limestone and up and down roller-coaster-like arroyos and small hills that ran along the base of towering cliffs and then out into a valley. These trails were singletrack cruisin' and so fun as to bring a grin to our faces. Utah bikers must have a "soft tail" or a suspended seat post, we concluded. But we talked to a few other bikers and they all said they thought their hard tails were actually better. So, we concluded that our bikes are just fine and we need to get down to Utah for more mountain biking. The terrain can be challenging and it is so beautiful!
The initial descent down J.E.M. trail that puts you riding alongside a gorge was a little sketchy for me, so I walked a few of the steep switchbacks, while two young and fast kids whizzed past and out of sight (maybe I've seen too many physical therapy patients with broken bones and sprained ligaments as a result of bike crashes!).
Trails from J.E.M. trailhead (bottom of map) in the Hurricane Rim trail system, near Hurricane, Utah
Our Loop ~ 10 miles (J.E.M., Goosebumps, Cryptobionic, Dead Ringer and More Cowbell trails)
Cryptobionic trail sign and cryptobiotic soil
It seemed fitting that in a sea of cryptobiotic soil we would be riding on Cryptobionic trail. We admired the "geology-mindedness" and a play on words that the trail builders provided us. Cryptobiotic soil crusts consist of soil cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses. In arid areas, these crusts help prevent soil erosion, increase water infiltration, and are good sources of fixed carbon. A large percentage of the soil in this trail system had cryptobiotic crusts. One source I read said that it takes an estimated minimum of 45 years to for damaged cryptobiotic soil in Southern Utah to be restored if crushed.
Dead Ringer trail leading south toward J.E.M. trailhead and cowbell
The cowbell hanging from a post at the top of Dead Ringer trail is within easy reach as you get to the top. As we took a break at the top, several bikers hit the bell as they rode past it. The story, we heard is that the cowbell was found on/near a cow skeleton while the trails were being built. At the cowbell, you can keep going to the trailhead or you can take a left and cruise on More Cowbell trail. Of course, we opted to keep cruisin' on this great trail that traces the edge of the mesa we had just climbed.
Tarantula on gravel road in Snow Canyon State Park
The joy of riding More Cowbell trail and the beautiful single track behind me!
So much to explore in the St. George, Utah area, so little time. We'll get back on these trails, that's for sure! Longer loop next time!
Belnap, J., Cryptobiotic Soils: Holding the Place in Place
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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